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International Socialist Review, Fall 1960




From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No.4 Fall 1961, p.98.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.



I got a chance to look at the ISR and found it to be the best periodical publication I’ve seen. I would not have come to this conclusion had not Mainstream been so milk-toasty in the last few issues. I find myself in agreement with just about all SWP principles except one, and that is Red China. It’s entirely possible that I have the wrong idea on this country but if it’s like the pictures in Time, it makes me sick to my stomach.

I have been wondering where I could get hold of a subscription to the Labour Review and The Newsletter. Maybe you can help.

T. L.
Pasadena, California


“There is a very real possibility that the Negro movement will become the leading spokesman for the interests of all Southern oppressed.” This statement, by Bert Deck, in Challenge of the Negro Student, in the Summer issue of the International Socialist Review is, I believe, an extremely perceptive statement.

My experiences in Memphis, Tennessee from 1938 until I was drafted in 1942, as first a Trotskyist sympathizer and then as an active party member, showed me how it was possible for Negroes to lead the labor movement in the South.

Organization of the industrial workers through the CIO did not come into Memphis until the beginning of the forties. The first CIO union organized was the Inland Boatmen’s section of the National Maritime Union. It was organized in Memphis through powerful aid from workers in other inland ports through a strike that tied up all ports on the Mississippi River. The river workers established a small beachhead for the CIO in Memphis.

The office of the boatmen was in a building at the top of a hill leading down to the river. It was by far the most dilapidated union office I have ever seen. It was not safe to flush the toilet, there was a hole in the floor of one of the rooms, and the wood near the hole was broken and rotten so that it was not safe to walk near the hole.

However, Negroes saw in this dilapidated building the place to begin rebuilding their world. Two leaders of the boatmen’s union told me Negroes went regularly and often to this office, asking for CIO organizers to organize their industries.

The CIO started to send organizers. The local papers started running stories telling how the police were buying submachine guns and other weapons in large quantities in preparation for trouble.

The key spot was the Firestone Tire Company, which had recently been located in Memphis to escape the union. Two thirds of the workers were white and one third colored. Luckily George Bass was sent to organize this factory. He was a far better organizer than most of those sent to Memphis and he seemed to understand the color question better than the others. Some of the organizers were anti-Negro. One tried to organize Jim-Crow unions.

After some organizers were “roughed-up” the Firestone workers organized into the CIO. The day the workers had their first election a Memphis paper, which sprang up around the time the workers started organizing, had a headline screaming NEGRO ELECTED VICE-PRESIDENT OF CIO RUBBER WORKERS.

A terrific campaign was organized to get the rubber workers into the AFL. They did go into it for a while, but then voted themselves back into the CIO.

The election of a Negro vice-president of the rubber workers was one of the actions that made Memphis Negroes strong CIO people. They decided the CIO was something worth struggling and sacrificing for.

The first strikes of the CIO were at plants where only Negroes worked, cotton processing plants and hardwood lumber companies. There conditions and wages were poor judged even by Memphis standards.

City authorites had planned to stop these strikes by intimidation. There were more policemen around the struck plants than there were people who worked in them. Any strikers who tried to stop scabs would have been fortunate if they missed a trip to the hospital. However, there were no scabs. There is no way of being sure that no one wanted to scab, but any person would have known a scab could not dare go back into a Negro neighborhood. These strikes and the backing Negroes got from the CIO tied them more firmly to the union.

The first mixed strike, Negro and white workers, was at the Wabash Screen and Door Company. All of the workers went out, but the white workers generally just stayed home and the Negroes did almost all the picketing.

Except perhaps for the skilled workers, most white workers gave various degrees of support to the CIO, but they looked to the Negroes for leadership. The white workers in the finishing plant where I worked considered their union a company union and would have preferred to get into the CIO, but they dared not make the try. However, many of them were ready to and later did follow the Negroes into the CIO. A white woman told me,

“If the — (she used that word which she considered it necessary to use to prove that although she was willing to organize with Negroes she was still a Southerner) put up a picket line we will not go through it.”

She was as typically Southern as a person could be, but was looking to the Negroes for leadership.

When the CIO called the first meeting to organize our plant most of the Negroes were there, but there were only two white people from our plant. Both of us had already been fired for our union activities. The plant was, however, in a short time organized into the CIO.

As the CIO came into the unorganized plants in Memphis white workers became more militant and took positions of leadership. However, at first it was the Negroes who supplied the initiative and drive that brought it.

Dick Clarke
St. Louis


I have much praise for your summer 1960 issue of the ISR, save one exception i.e. your repeated “knocking” (criticizing) of other socialist factions. Don’t you think it would be a better policy and practice to accentuate the positive using all energies therefore? I observed this issue to be one of your best ever in its topics and contents otherwise.

San Diego


When we got home from our world tour I found a big bundle of mail and publications, including the Spring issue of the ISR. In it I found the enclosed slip as a reminder to renew the subscription. Therefore, I am herewith enclosing three one dollar bills to cover a two year renewal of the ISR, and the remaining fifty cents to apply as a donation to whatever purpose you want to use it.

I just got through reading the article by Gitano on the Cuban situation. It is certainly encouraging for a socialist in this country to learn that a progressive movement of that type has found a foothold right in our own international neighborhood. The article is well written, interesting and informative.

Minneapolis, Minn.

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